1. A Picnic Lunch
Where the Drake Resort's private beach ended, the shoreline curved away from the lodge in either direction to form an almost perfect circle, which secluded the small cove from the nearby Florida Gulf. Trees made up a small forest along one side of these shores and concealed a number of paths that led to scenic campsites and picnic areas.
The shade was a welcome relief after the intense heat of the beach. Christine Lucas led her husband through the woods, and a continuous breeze that passed through the branches created a natural form of air conditioning. Pete really didn't mind the heavy burden of the overstuffed picnic hamper, because he was occupied with the gorgeous scenery that swayed ahead of him in her tank top and high cut shorts. Chris's hair was pulled back in a single French braid. It peeked out below her wide brimmed hat and hung halfway down her back. It was rather stylish but he found more interest in the easy rhythm of those perfect legs and her well rounded hips. She stopped to allow him to catch up. It was hot, but an occasional breeze filtered through the trees and helped to make their hike more bearable.
"How are you doing?" She asked and glanced back at him and then at the hamper. "I could take it for awhile."
"No, it's okay," he said and set the basket down to relax his stiffened muscles. He dried his damp forehead with the back of this hand, and peered at the beach still visible through the trees. "Is it much farther?"
"The trail twists back toward the lodge just up ahead," she said and continued to stride on down the path. "It comes out on a clearing near the shore."
Pete picked up the hamper with his other arm and followed her. The trail did turn back and ended in an area that overlooked a scenic view of the cove. Voices traveled with ease over the open water from the nearby beach and were accentuated by an occasional shriek of delight from a group of children at play with a colorful inflated ball at one end of the beach area.
"This is nice. Very nice," he said and placed the hamper on the picnic table someone had been so nice to put there. He looked around and took in his surroundings. "Chris, you are a sly one. This is perfect." He watched her spread out a table cloth and helped her unpack their late lunch.
"Are you sure?" She asked. "When I read your notes, I thought this is what you had in mind."
He nodded in appreciation of his wife's insight and let his eyes rove over the surrounding paradise. "I'll open my first chapter, right here. It all fits in nicely. Thanks, hon," he said and gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze.
He stood and took in the beauty of the overlook when the aroma of fried chicken and hot biscuits gained his attention. He filled two glasses with iced lemonade. Chris opened a sealed container filled with carrots, celery, fresh broccoli and cauliflower. Another crisper contained sliced tomatoes.
Pete looked over the contents and his face turned into a light frown. "So, where's the olives?" He asked.
"Right here, silly," she said and lifted two jars out of the basket. "You didn't want all the veggies tasting like olives, did you?" She set them on the table. "I brought some pickles, too."
Their repast proceeded to last for about an hour. It had been quite awhile since their early morning breakfast. Pete lost no time when he found a cozy place to stretch out under a tree. He felt himself relax and watched Chris pack the leftovers back into the hamper. It was no surprise when she drew out her artist's sketch pad and his note book. Normally, he would use his laptop to make notations on his next novel, but it would've been rather bulky to tote through the woods along with the picnic hamper.
"Care to take some on-the-spot notations?" She asked and handed him his pen with exaggerated casualness.
"Only if you agree to join me," he said by way of invitation and let his gaze travel out and over the cove. "So, what composition from here sparks your interest?"
"I don't know," she said and sat down beside him on the sandy soil. ""there's a beautiful view of the gulf, but the beach would make an interesting composition, too. I could sketch several different subjects from right here." She released a contented sigh.
Pete nodded and said, "I honestly wish we could take a real vacation, sometime. You know. Just leave the business at home and be able to enjoy ourselves with no outside pressure from our jobs or our bosses."
Chris smiled and said, "You don't hear me complaining, do you? I knew when I married you that our professions might intrude on our leisure time, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else at this moment than right her with you."
He chuckled and let his arm slip around her smooth, soft shoulders. If only it was that easy to leave all their worries behind. He gave her a gentle hug and kissed her cheek. It felt so nice to have her snuggled against him in a place that was so nice and far away from their everyday lives.
His pen was poised over the notebook balanced on his lap when his gaze was drawn to the laughter of the children in the water just out and to one side of the beach. He grinned at their game, and it wasn't hard to figure out. From what he could see, the six children were divided into two teams and playing some kind of keep away game with a bright and colorful inflated ball.
One of the girls threw the ball farther out into the water than she had intended, and Pete felt his body tense up when one of the smaller boys swam after it. He was sure the child had no idea he was in deep water. Would he have enough strength to make it back? The boy reached the ball and did a quick bob under the water. He shook his head and choked on a mouthful of brine. Pete felt the horror of the situation when the boy made a futile attempt to stroke back to the shallows.
Chris looked up from her sketchpad and took note of the taut worry on his face. "Peter? What is it?" She asked before her gaze searched in the direction of his tension to see the boy. "Oh, dear God." Her tone was nothing more than a hoarse whisper.
"The lifeguard isn't even looking in their direction," Pete said and stood up with Chris at his side. "I don't think he can see them, since they're outside the actual beach area. We don't have much time. I better go after him while you call 911 and return to the lodge." She glanced at the remains of their picnic spread out before them. Don't worry about our things. We have to move before it's too late." He pulled her close and kissed her inviting lips before he bolted up the path.
Chris watched him sprint away and punched 911 out on her cell. The call took only a few minutes. She gave one last look at their belongings before she ran after her husband and was startled to discover he'd gained such a long head start.
She began to rate her pace, since she couldn't run out of steam before she reached the lodge. Her legs ached by the time she came out of the woods, and the sun that glared off the white hot sand of the beach blinded her for a moment or two after the comparative darkness of the woods.
The heat struck her back without mercy, and sweat trickled down and between her shoulder blades. The resort's sunbathers released surprised and angry shouts when her feet stung them with flying sand. She reached the door to the lodge and excused herself when she collided with a man and a woman on their way out.
"Mr. Drake," she said between ragged breaths.
The resort's manager looked up from behind the counter in surprise. "Mrs. Lucas," he said, "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, thank you," she said with a weak grin, "but there's been an accident. Some kids were playing just out of sight of the beach, and one of them swam out too far to swim back. Pete has already gone after him, and an ambulance should be here at any time."
The man thanked her, and she returned to the beach.
A crowd had gathered near the water where the children had played not long ago. They were not to be seen, now, absorbed into the crowd with their concerned parents. It was a given that they had to be shocked at what had happened to their friend.
Chris used caution to shoulder her way through the crowd until she spied Pete where he kneeled over a small boy performing CPR. The child looked so fragile where he lay near the water, and his wet swim trunks only accentuated the slenderness of his body. She felt a light finger tap her on the back and turned around to see a young woman who stood behind her.
"Pardon me," she said, "but what happened?"
Chris looked her over and guessed the woman to be about twenty-five. She wore a flower printed bikini with a towel thrown about her shoulders.
"A young boy swam out too far and into the deeper water," Chris said soberly. "He would probably have drowned if my husband hadn't watched it happen and gone after him. I've already called for an ambulance, which should be here very soon."
The woman's face paled when she asked, "A little boy? About six years old?" Her eyes were drawn to Pete where he continued to work over the child. "Oh, my God!" She shrieked. "My baby!"
Chris took a firm grip on the woman's shoulders to keep her from disturbing Pete's concentration on the boy and was amazed at how much strength heightened emotions could give someone. "Hey take it easy," she said in what she hoped was a soothing tone. "Everything is under control. Trust me. Pete knows what he's doing." The woman fought for only a few minutes more before she began to relax under Chris's fingers. "May I ask your name?"
She remained silent with her attention riveted to her unconscious son before she said, "Jill. Jill Howard." She took in a long, ragged breath. "Timmy is all I have."
Chris gave her a friendly grin and said, "Glad to know you, Jill. I'm Christine Lucas." It was more than obvious that Jill was very distraught with what had happened to her son, but Chris couldn't help but wonder why she hadn't known, until just a few short moments ago, what had happened to her son?
Jill turned under Chris's hand and took a quick glance through the throng behind them. "You said you called an ambulance?" She asked.
"Yes," Chris said. "It should be here, soon, and everything should be fine. Pete has been trained for emergencies like this one. Your son couldn't be in better hands."
They watched tensely while Pete labored over the boy, and most of the curious spectators refused to leave and were captivated by this real life drama. Chris and Jill were on the edge of this crowd and stood the closest to Pete and Timmy when Chris overheard someone say, "Yeah, I did see the dolphin bring the kid in. It was the most fantastic thing I've ever seen."
She shot a quick look at Jill and was relieved the woman hadn't heard the man's tasteless remark.
"As soon as the kid was beached, he just took off back out toward the gulf," the man said. "It couldn't have been more than ten minutes later when this guy showed up and started CPR."
The other half of the conversation had a gruffer, inquisitive tone that asked, "By any chance, did you happen to notice anything unusual about this dolphin, besides that he rescued the boy?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it," the first voice said. "He looked like any other dolphin you'd see anywhere except his skin seemed to shine a bright, luminous blue."
A siren preceded the flashing of lights from behind the crowd and drew everyone, at least for a little while, away from the accident. Chris watched the large white vehicle with the orange and blue emblems make its way down the path cleared by the resort's guests before it stopped not far from Pete and the boy. Pete helped Timmy roll onto his side and cough up the water trapped in his lungs. The boy began to breathe without assistance.
Two medics climbed out of the ambulance and knelt beside them. Chris was too far away to hear what was said but could see her husband answer them while they checked the boy over. Jill stepped forward to comfort her son and let them know she was Timmy's mother. At that time, Chris decided it was okay to join them, too.
"It's all right," Pete said to the medics. "This is my wife, Christine. She's the one who made the call."
One of the medics turned to shake her hand and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am. You and your husband undoubtedly saved this young man's life."
She and Pete exchanged humbled glances when she heard Pete say, "We just did what had to be done. Nothing more, nothing less."
The other medic was with Jill. "Your son seems to be out of danger, Mrs. Howard," he said, "but it would be advisable to have him taken to the hospital and checked out."
Jill held back an emotional sob and just nodded before she turned toward her son's rescuers. She clasped Pete's hand, and Chris could see the woman's hand tremble in his. "May God bless you, Mr. Lucas," she said and gave Chris an emotional hug. "I'll never forget what you and your husband did this day."
"Mom?" The small, weak voice came from Jill's side.
"I'm right here, darling," she said. "Everything's going to be fine." She stood by the stretcher and smoothed the hair on his forehead. They lifted the boy into the ambulance, and Jill stepped in beside him. The doors closed, the medics climbed into the cab, and the flashing lights accompanied the ambulance back to the main highway.
Chris released her tension in a deep sigh and felt the excitement drain away from her body. It was hard to realize how fast the whole situation had taken place. She was thankful for Pete's gentle hand on her shoulder, and she gave it a soft caress.
"Thank God everything worked out okay," she said.
"Amen," he said in total agreement. "It sure makes you wonder about some people, though."
She turned to gaze at him with curiosity. "What do you mean?" She asked.
"Oh, why some people don't keep a closer watch over their own children," he said. "Jill didn't even know Timmy was in trouble, and yet she claims he's her entire world. I'd also like to know where the boy's father was, though Jill may be divorced."
"I couldn't really say why, but I have a feeling this won't happen, again, anytime soon," she said.
Once again, Chris heard the voice that had been asking about the dolphin startle her from right behind her. "Mr. Peter Lucas?" It asked.
She and Pete turned to face a husky built man who stood an inch or two over six feet tall. For some reason, his clothing didn't hang right on him, and he seemed more bothered than most of the resort's clients from the heat and humidity.
"My name's John Phillips, and I'm with the New York Science Monitor," he said and showed them his press credentials. "I'd like to ask you a few questions?"
The reporter's pushy attitude made it sound like a command and Chris could see Pete's suspicions had been aroused. The man's manner struck her like that of a leach once he was after something. She felt her skin crawl and could see Pete was having similar thoughts and wished the man would just leave them alone.
"So, just what do you want, Mr. Phillips?" Pete asked.
His abrupt and icy reception surprised Chris, and she watched the reporter ignore the very clear warning in Pete's tone.
"I've had two eyewitnesses report about a dolphin bringing the Howard boy to shore before you arrived on the scene," Phillips said. "Is this so, and did you see the dolphin, yourself?"
Pete gazed for a few long moments across the cove to the approximate area where their picnic had ended so suddenly. "I was running along one of the trails along the edge of the woods, over there, and headed for the closest spot to swim for the boy. It was then that I noticed the dolphin had already reached him and was buoying him toward shore. I estimated where Timmy would be brought in and tried to be there once he reached shore."
Phillips nodded and scanned the indicated shoreline with his eyes. "Is it true you worked for a marine mammal rescue service that also rescued abused dolphins?"
Pete shot him a cautious glare and asked, "How do you know that?"
He shrugged and said, "I have my sources. Would you care to answer my question?"
Chris watched them anxiously and prayed that Pete would just answer the man so they could be rid of him.
"I worked with Dr. David Conners, a marine biologist in charge of the service, while I was in college as a part time job and to help me with my biology minor," Pete said.
"My witnesses had an unusual description of this dolphin, Mr. Lucas," Phillips said and studied Pete closely. "They said his hide shown almost of a luminosity all its own. The color was a bright, almost metallic, blue. In your own opinion, is this possible?"
Pete scowled at the reporter with restrained anger before turning it onto his wife. "Come on, Christine. We need to pick up our things at our interrupted picnic."
Apprehensive, she studied Pete's serious, stubborn attitude before she stared at the determined reporter. Was Pete hiding something, and if so, why?
"Mr. Lucas. Would you mind making a comment on my last question?" Phillips asked with a satisfied smirk.
She felt his light but firm hand grip her arm, and he tried, once more, to dismiss the man. "Obviously, it's possible if other people saw it."
A wide grin swept the newsman's face, and Chris was sure he enjoyed making one final thrust when he said, "Could you tell me what color the dolphin appeared to you?"
A quiet explosion shattered the last of Pete's self control, and Chris could tell he would like nothing better than to introduce the man's jaw to his fist. His fury simmered dangerously when he snapped, "It was blue. Bright, iridescent blue."
He turned around sharply, and Chris followed him. She glanced one last time at her husband's irritant and felt an ice cold shiver in the early evening sun. The reporter's smug smile revealed an enjoyment that was frightening.